It’s no secret that China imposes wide reaching Internet censorship on its citizens – nicknamed the Great Firewall of China, but this Firewall just got greater as the Chinese Government strengthened its blocks against VPNs (and other means of circumvention) last week.
For years, Chinese citizens have been subject to the Government’s Internet censorship which blocks access to many Western sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google as well as email clients such as Gmail and is known to restrict access to information that is ‘critical’ of the Chinese Government. Their argument is they are trying to ‘enhance development’ of their own Internet services within the country and give Chinese based tech firms an advantage over foreign competition. Critics argue though that their actions actually hamper innovation and serve only to control and restrict the information their citizens have access to.
Until now many citizens used VPNs to circumvent the filters and gain access to the ‘forbidden’ sites but last week it was reported that China has increased its Firewall capabilities and is specifically targeting VPNs and other circumvention methods to enforce its restrictions. It is also increasing the ‘requirements’ it makes on foreign companies wanting to do business within China.
What does all this mean for the UK?
Censorship (especially to this extent) is something we whole heartedly disagree with, but China is a communist country and one of the world’s superpowers which means their actions are highly unlikely to change anytime soon. The fact they are strengthening their Firewall and ‘plugging the gaps’ is of no surprise really. However, where there is a will, there is a way and we are sure determined users will endeavour to find further ‘gaps’ to tunnel out of.
The Chinese Government’s activities also pose obvious barriers for any foreign companies wanting to enter Chinese markets. Back in 2010 Google publically withdrew its .cn site after it suffered a number of hacking attacks allegedly commissioned by the Chinese Government.
More recently (just last month in fact), Outlook allegedly suffered similar attacks. This coupled with increasing demands by the Chinese Government to obtain access to foreign companies systems to ensure they are ‘secure and controllable’ means many companies are not willing to enter the potentially profitable Chinese market. Perhaps their ‘protection’ of Chinese based tech firms is working?
However, whilst many companies refuse to comply with these restrictions some see the opportunity in China as too good to miss and are worryingly providing access as requested. If the alleged hacking attack alliances are true and the Government was involved, this could pose significant security risks for the companies, its data and its customers elsewhere in the world.
Founder of GreatFire.org, Charlie Smith argued: “Foreign companies who wish to do business in China are bending over backwards to comply with the authorities in exchange for market access. Are there any limits to what companies will do to sell more product? I think history has shown the answer to this question to be a definitive ‘no.’”
We disagree with the firewall censorship China imposes on its citizens but are not surprised that they continue to increase their controls and endeavour to plug gaps such as VPN circumvention. China isn’t alone in this of course and it is concerning that any Government can censor information (and particularly, criticism) from its citizens in today’s world. Equally concerning is the increase in access the Chinese Government is potentially gaining to international companies’ systems and the potential security implications this has for users across the world. Whilst the ‘market opportunities’ within China must be inviting, surely the level of access and potential security breaches across its customer base should be significantly factored into any company’s decision to enter this market.
Have your say!
Do you think China is right to protect its native companies and limit competition? Do you think demanding access to foreign companies systems is a step too far? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.